When Judge Varga (Charles Vanel) is murdered in Palermo, Inspector Amerigo Rogas (Lino Ventura) is assigned the case. Some blame the Mafia but rebels of the Christian Democratic government say that Varga was part of the Mafia and corrupt. Not long after that two more judges are murdered, Sanza and Calamo. Rogas believes that all three murders are connected in some way. In researching the judges’ pasts he learns that all three worked together on several cases. Of those cases three people that were sent to jail were later found to be innocent. Rogas believes that there could be a revenge motive to the killings and that one of the three previously convicted people is responsible. Rogas begins by investigating the three exonerated suspects.
One was a chemist whose wife accused him of trying to poison her. Another was a mechanic who was accused of killing his gay lover and the third was a truck driver who is now homeless. Rogas questions the truck driver and the mechanic but when he goes to question the chemist, whose name is Cres, no one answers. Rogas talks to the only person who is in contact with Cres. He is Dr. Maxia (Paolo Bonacelli). Maxia says that Cres is a loner and sometimes pretends he isn’t home. Maxia takes Rogas to Cres’ home to see if he is there. They find the house abandoned. During his search of the house Rogas finds that all the pictures Cres possesses has him cut out of them. This makes Rogas suspicious that Cres wants to remain anonymous. Rogas now believes that Cres may be responsible for the murders.
Then another judge is murdered. This time there are witnesses to the crime but their stories vary enough to make them both useless for information. Rogas still believes that Cres is responsible but his boss, the Chief of Police (Tino Carraro), believes that the crimes were perpetrated by a terrorist group. Or at least he is willing to pin it on terrorists. As Rogas digs deeper he finds that the crimes may have started out as revenge but something more sinister has taken over and if Rogas doesn’t go along with it he may find his life far more complicated than he ever imagined. “Illustrious Corpses” AKA “Cadaveri eccellenti” was released in 1976 and was directed by Francesco Rosi. It is an Italian murder mystery thriller based on the 1971 book “Equal Danger” by Leonardo Sciascia. In 2008, the film was selected to enter the list of the 100 Italian films to be saved.
I was hooked by this movie the minute I started watching it. At times it meanders along, but you don’t really mind since you are more than willing to meander along with it. It gives you a glimpse of the underbelly of Italian politics. The story is fascinating and the cinematography captivating. The plot moves from your basic murder mystery to political intrigue. Ventura plays Rogas as a smart and dedicated detective. He is calm and sharp, always paying attention and quietly taking in more than people realize. His demeanor is deceiving. A sort of slightly brooding “Columbo” but without the cigar.
The title of the film is a reference to a party game called Cadavres Exquis or Exquisite Corpses. It was invented by French Surrealists. A piece of paper folded in an accordion style was passed around to each person in turn. Each payer would draw a section of a human body on a strip of the paper and pass it on to the next person who would draw another section but would not know what the previous players drew. At the end the paper was unfolded showing the entire body. The resulting body would be out of proportion. This reference to the game is believed to mean that what one experiences now is not a prediction of what will happen next. Although Rogas began investigating a series of connected homicides, when the total picture was revealed he found himself in a different game than when he started.